Natwar Lobs a Stinker Bomb at the Gandhis
Revenge is a dish best served cold. After lying low, following his unceremonious ouster from his ministerial post in 2005 and membership of the Congress party in 2008, Mr.Natwar Singh has now gone ballistic. And how! The autobiography of the former External Affairs Minister in Manmohan Singh's UPA-I government, and earlier Minister of State for External Affairs in Rajiv Gandhi's government and an avowedly staunch 'loyalist' of the Nehru-Gandhi family of four generations, could not have seen the light of the day at a time more embarrassing and inconvenient for the Gandhis than now for the following reasons:
Sonia and Rahul at the Receiving End
Timing of the Book's Release
● After the Congress-led coalition government of the United Progressive Alliance-II was voted out of power in May 2014, the Congress party has been reduced to a miserable wisp of a figure of 44 in the Lower House of the Indian parliament (Lok Sabha) with a strength of 545 seats and has since been fighting hard a losing battle to gain the Leader of Opposition (LOP) status in the House. The Attorney General of India has already voiced his opinion to the chagrin of the Congress that it is not entitled to become LOP. If and when its fond hope of wangling off this post fizzles out, which is a stark reality, Congress would be reduced to the level of just a ragtag bunch of disgruntled politicians living with the dying memories of a past receding into the realms of dreams of fantasy.
● Voices of dissent have been raised post the recently-held elections to Lok Sabha by Congressmen in different states against Rahul Gandhi's inept leadership. This was an unthinkable phenomenon till recently when Sonia had held the reins of power as de facto Prime Minister for ten long years before a wit of a teaboy metamorphosed into a giant-slayer and India's strongest Prime Minister in recent times. With Rahul showing no signs of rallying around with renewed gusto and conviction of purpose required of a true leader (he was caught on camera not long ago catnapping during an important discussion in the Lok Sabha) and leading his party from the front to state assembly elections, the morale of Congressmen has been at the lowest ebb ever in living memory. The Gandhi family is truly on the verge of losing its modicum of power in the party and thereby its raison d'être. In the event of a very likely failure on the part of Congress in the state assembly elections round the corner, the Gandhi family would hurtle headlong into a bottomless pit of political oblivion. In such a dreadful eventuality, Sonia would be crowned with the dubious distinction of presiding, ably assisted by Rahul, over the liquidation of the oldest political party of the country.
● Sonia and Rahul are caught in a torrid legal quagmire, with several court cases of corruption and lawsuits for defamation against them due to come up for hearing in the next few months. Sonia's son-in-law is caught in a messy legal wrangle too. With no signs of a revival of the Congress party's past glory in the near future even at regional or provincial level, the Gandhis' cup of woe is veritably overflowing. In short, the stock of the Gandhi family in the party is on a seemingly unstoppable nosedive.
Late Rajiv Gandhi
Can of Worms
Against the above background, Natwar Singh has shot a quiverful of arrows at the Gandhi family's political image, or what is left of it. With blow after blow experienced at the hands of its own one-time staunch supporters, the Gandhi family may call Natwar's autobiography the unkindest cut of them all. Mr.Singh would have us believe that Sonia and her daughter Priyanka had called on him at his house some time in May 2014, not for having tea or lunch, but for requesting him not to include inconvenient incidents and facts concerning the Family in his book. By authoring the book, avowedly for placing facts and, thereby, the 'truth' before the people, Mr. Natwar Singh has opened a can of worms. Some of the vignettes which make the Gandhi family react like the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof are:
● Sonia' s control on the party is total. In fact, her hold on the party is more than that of Jawahalal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India and an unrivalled politician with a larger than life stature. She is ruthless and vehement in smothering dissent within the party. Adjectives like 'capricious', 'Machiavellian', 'prima donna' etc have been used to describe Sonia. However, despite the posturing, she is a simple, ordinary and insecure person.
● She was very much inclined to lay claim to and accept the offer of Prime Ministership in 2004. She, however, desisted from doing so following Rahul Gandhi's threat that he would do anything to stop her from becoming PM out of fear that she would meet the same violent fate as his grandmother and father at the hands of assassins. This revelation is contrary to Sonia's claim made at that time that she had refrained from accepting Prime Ministership in deference to her conscience and 'inner voice'. The carefully-cultivated image of a true democratic leader who respected the sentiments of the Indian public who were not yet ready to accept a foreign-born leader as their PM was thus sent for a sixer by Natwar's revelation. He has supported his revelation by stating who were the participants, besides him, of the meeting in which Rahul's emotional checkmate was announced and when and where the meeting was held. Mr.Singh's revelation has been supported by former Minister and another Gandhi family loyalist, Mani Shankar Aiyar, who has, however, qualified his support by saying that there must have been other factors too, besides Rahul, for Sonia to decline the Prime Minister's post.
● When the report of the Volcker Committee, set up by the UN in 2005 to probe into corrupt dealings in the 'cash for oil' scheme towards the end of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, indicted Natwar Singh and the Congress party for being non-contractual beneficiaries (euphemism for corrupt), Mr.Singh was on his way back to India from a foreign trip. Sonia, the party president, did not wait for him to land in India or extend the basic courtesy of allowing him to offer his version of the incidents leading to the scam (he claimed he was innocent). Instead, she listened to her advisers and dropped him from the Cabinet like a hot potato or the proverbial baby thrown away with the bath water and suspended him from the primary membership of the party. Mr.Singh has since been nursing the grouse that instead of defending a staunch loyalist of the Nehru-Gandhi family of four generations, she conveniently distanced herself and the party from him. The underlying idea was obviously to make the point that the Congress party had nothing to do with the corruption scam and that Mr.Singh had to fend for himself as an individual. No Indian politician in Sonia's position, would have treated a man of his age who had been a staunch loyalist of the Family of four generations so cursorily without exhibiting any trace of sentiments as she did. Her behaviour was simply vicious and venomous. This is where her Italian origin manifested despite her having lived in India for over forty years. Earlier, she had been terribly unhappy with former PM Narasimha Rao for the slow progress in the trial of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and treated him so shabbily that Mr.Rao's health had taken a severe beating. In short, in Congress, it was either Sonia's way or the highway!
● Sonia was under pressure from the US not to make Natwar Minister of External Affairs.
● Sonia kept a discreet watch on important Ministries including Mr.Singh's. There was a mole in his office who was supplying Sonia information. Mr.Singh says his relations with her had started to sour from that point of time.
● Rajiv Gandhi was a good man and not a hard-boiled politician. He was too trusting in nature to be successful. He trusted the supremo of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Prabhakaran who, in turn, betrayed him.
● Rajiv Gandhi's handling of the Sri Lanka issue had gaping holes. He sent the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka without telling his own Cabinet about it beforehand. Nor had the IPKF been briefed of its mandate. It had also not struck Rajiv that while the Government of India had its Sri Lanka policy, the Government of Tamil Nadu had its own! The height of naivete!
● Indian army's military exercises code- named 'Operation Brasstacks' carried out in 1987 on the India-Pakistan border had been conceived and executed by Rajiv Gandhi's Minister of State for Defence, Arun Singh and Chief of Army Staff Krishnaswamy Sundarji, without keeping PM Rajiv Gandhi who, incidentally, held charge of the defence portfolio, in the loop! That the Prime Minister did not know beforehand of the carrying out of military exercises by his own Army on his country's border with an enemy country which could have led to a full blown war, sounds unbelievable, if not downright ludicrous. And yet, Mr.Singh calls Rajiv a good man and an honourable Prime Minister!
● Rajiv Gandhi made a terrible faux pas when he visited China. When he met the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, he had forgotten to take with him India's Ambassador to China and the Foreign Secretary. Subsequently, he apologised to Foreign Secretary K.P.S.Menon. And yet, Mr.Singh calls Rajiv a good Prime Minister!
● During the first eighteen months of his tenure, Rajiv had surrounded himself with ignoramuses and people with inflated egos like Arun Nehru and Gopi Arora. And yet, Mr.Singh calls Rajiv a good Prime Minister!
● PM Manmohan Singh had no foreign policy. Nor could he stand up to Sonia. He had no stature either to occupy the Prime Minister's seat which had been occupied earlier by the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. (After having dealt at some detail Rajiv Gandhi's inept handling of foreign and defence issues, Mr.Singh does not say what made him call Rajiv a PM of some stature!) All important files sent to the Prime Minister's office found their way to Sonia, the party president.
● Rahul Gandhi is like a fly-by night politician who does not realise that politics is a 24-hour business. Nor does he have fire in his belly, expected of a true leader.
Deride the Book, Denounce the Author
Congressmen have, as was expected, dismissed Mr.Natwar Singh's attempt to denigrate the Gandhi family as an act of vendetta by an embittered out-of-business politician who had been removed from his ministerial berth and membership of the party. Mr.Salman Khurshid, former External Affairs Minister, has branded him a betrayer of the Family. Sonia Gandhi has, on her part, taken umbrage at the contents of the book and declared her intention of writing a book to tell the real 'truth'! So many versions of truth to do rounds. Gentlemen, have your pick and place your bets!
Mr.Singh Sings. For what?
Mr. Natwar Singh claims to have been a staunch loyalist of the Nehru-Gandhi family of four generations. What is this loyalty to a family all about in a democracy like India? Shouldn't one's loyalty be to the country and the government? Why owe loyalty to a family, especially one, which has churned out reluctant politicians of proven incompetence on whom Prime Ministership was thrust time and again? When the family itself stands exposed for its bereftness of lofty values, sacrifices or commitment to the development of the country, where does that leave someone who claims to be the family's staunch loyalist in the eyes of a trusting people who have felt betrayed by the family and relegated it to the dustbins of history? Why should someone who has an illustrious career to his credit do muck raking in his twilight years? To sell a book? What is then wrong about a family which had been selling dreams to a naive people? When you have stopped loving me, why should you continue to love my dog? When the family is doomed, the loyalists can't complain about being damned!
© 2014 Kalyanaraman Raman